Chicago • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Wednesday allowing same-sex weddings starting this summer, making President Barack Obama's home state the 16th overall and largest in the nation's heartland to legalize gay marriage.
The festivities at the University of Illinois at Chicago featured a family-friendly crowd, musical performances and a stage lined with American, Illinois and rainbow flags.
"We understand in our state that part of our unfinished business is to help other states in the United States of America achieve marriage equality," Quinn said before he signed the bill on a desk once used by President Abraham Lincoln. He said part of that mission was to ensure that "love is not relegated to a second class status to any citizen in our country."
References to freedom, equality, fairness and Lincoln the desk was where he penned his 1861 inaugural address were peppered throughout the event. In attendance were top elected officials, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Organizers estimated roughly 2,300 attended, including activists and members of the public.
Illinois, where Democrats lead both legislative chambers and the governor's office, legalized civil unions in 2011, but the road to same-sex marriage was bumpy.
When 2013 began advocates hoped Illinois would've been the 10th state, but watched as other states passed it. Gay marriage is allowed in Washington D.C., and 15 other states; Hawaii's governor signed a measure last week.
Even with support from top business leaders, unions and some Republicans, several lawmakers were resistant to the idea. That included some Democrats in more conservative downstate Illinois and some Chicago-area lawmakers.
The measure was fought hard by some of the state's most well-recognized religious figures, including Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Rev. James Meeks, a former state senator who runs a politically-influential megachurch in Chicago. Meeks was part of a coalition of black pastors who said marriage should remain between a man and woman.
Although Illinois once appeared poised to become the first Midwestern state to approve gay marriage in the Legislature, Minnesota did it sooner and started holding its first same-sex weddings over the summer. Iowa allows gay marriages too because of a court ruling, not a legislative vote.